Translated to English by Jay Rubin
Alfred Knopf, 2004
Sunday after the farmers market I walked past Copperfield’s, the new bookstore, not the used. They had a sales rack outside, fifty percent off the lowest marked price. I got two books for seven bucks and change. One was a hardcover Haruki Murakami novel called After Dark.
Finding a hardcover Murakami for $3.50 is, to me, like toe-ing over a gritty, sand encrusted shell at the beach and finding, on the other side, a perfectly shaped, shimmering silver-gray mabe pearl.
After Dark is the strangest of Murakami’s works that I’ve read, and his oeuvre is strangeness. I thought it couldn’t it get weirder than Hard-Boiled Universe and the End of the World, or Kafka at the Shore, but I was wrong. And After Dark is not my favorite—that is still Wild Sheep Chase. But it is a good intriguing read, giving a foreigner a slice of Tokyo life that one doesn’t expect to see. And the book creates a wonderful mood, evoking to eerie perfection the feeling of late night/early morning, when humans should rightfully be asleep. As strange as this comparison is, the book is a little bit like the movie Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, with the eerie intimacy of the dark hours.
There’s something tantalizing about late night things, forbidden things, and Murakami is explores them here. Like Hard-Boiled Universe, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is probably his masterpiece, there is metaphysical, or science fictional, strangeness walking hand-in-hand with the jazz musician, Chinese gangsters and love hotel strangeness. The book’s oddness turns on the authorial voice—or should I say voices?—entities who identify themselves as “pure point of view.”
“Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep, the city looks more like a single gigantic creature—or more like the single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms. Countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells, sending out new data and collecting the old, sending out new consumables and collecting the old, sending out new contradictions and collecting the old.”
This slice-of-night-life book weaves together several interesting characters and their stories. At its heart are two sisters; Mari, nineteen, intelligent, adventurous, driven to stay out at an 24-hour Denny’s restaurant, and Eri, the beautiful one, a former model. Eri has fallen into a state of lethargy and sleeps most of the time, usually in a room where a television, even though it is unplugged from the outlet, periodically shows an image of an empty room, where a faceless (masked) man watches Eri sleep through the TV. Later, Eri finds herself in the same room, on the other side of the glass. Mari, meanwhile, though describing herself as fearful, finds herself assisting a battered Chinese prostitute at a nearby love hotel or “love ho.” The book follows Mari and her new friend, jazz musician Takahashi, Kaoru, the “love ho” manager and her two janitorial assistants, and Shirakawa, an employee of a software development company.
The book is about disconnections, and connections. A television that is not connected acts as a conduit. Mari is disconnected from her family, running from the loss of her sister. Takahashi’s commitment to his music wavers, although at the end, his jam band friends tell him he played the best solo ever that night. Cricket, one of the love hotel maids, is on the run from a brutal past.
At the end, Mari and Takahashi have formed a fragile new relationship, and Mari overcomes her fear enough to try, again, to reconnect with her lost sister.
The most unsettling story line is that of Shirakawa, who never faces the consequences of his own brutality—or maybe he does, just in a different way. There is intimation that the masked man in the future room, watching Eri through the TV, is Shirakawa. As the cell phone left in the cold case at a 7-11 reminds us, you don’t escape in the daylight what you do after dark. “You can run, but you can never get away.”